Updated: Apr 10, 2022
Cleopatra wore black braided wigs and green eye shadow. Queen Elizabeth I painted her skin white. Marilyn Monroe wore false eyelashes. In fairy tales and classic novels, ugly women were portrayed as villains or witches and beautiful women were considered desirable and good.
And then there's someone like me.
When I was eight years old, I spent a week at a Campfire Girl camp with my younger sister, Marcia. On the last night of camp, the counselors were to give out awards to the Campfire girls for the skills they had learned and mastered. I was to receive a Trailblazer and Wood Gatherer award.
The evening might have gone well if the leaders hadn’t ignored the Campfire Girl Handbook and presented Beauty Awards along with traditional awards. Girls received awards for traits such as most beautiful eyes, hair, and smile. My sister received the Most Beautiful Eyelashes award. By the time they came to me, they must have run out of ideas. They awarded me Most Beautiful Ears though they could only see my ears when they stuck out of my fine and messy hair.
At ten years of age, I watched a TV show called “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Talented, attractive children and teens performed musical dance numbers wearing black caps with prestigious mouse ears. Toy stores sold them. I prayed I’d become a Mouseketeer, but chances were slim. I didn’t meet the beauty standards.
By the time I was eleven, my younger sister, Marcia, who Dad considered the ‘pretty one,’ outgrew me by several inches. Other kids, mostly boys, called me Shrimp, Germ and Knobby Knees. Though I’d given up on becoming a Mouseketeer, I hoped I would be beautiful one day like the ugly duckling who became a swan.
In high school, my English class studied Aldous Huxley’s, “Brave New World.” During one class period’s silent reading time, I skimmed over what I considered boring and tedious until Huxley began describing the caste system of his dystopian world. The best and the brightest group of people were the Alphas. Then, in descending order, came the Betas, Gammas and Deltas. The Epsilons were considered the lowest of the classes. Epsilons were short, blue-eyed, flaxen and freckled semi-morons that looked like me.
I read the section more than once to see if I had misunderstood. Nope. Sinking low in my chair, book in front of my face, I peeked above the page to see if my schoolmates were looking at me through the eyes of Huxley.
A teenager, trying to keep up with peer fashion, I grew my curly hair longer, pulled out Mom’s ironing board, leaned over one side with my hair spread over the pad, and pressed it flat with an iron which singed my hair. Still pursuing the ‘straight hair’ standard of beauty in college, I allowed a ‘friend of a friend’ to glob my hair with white paste and let it ‘set’ for several minutes. Glamorous for about a week, the hair on the crown of my head broke off…not all at once, but disturbingly fast.
After my hair inched its way back, I returned to backcombing and teasing it so as to poof up my height and make me look taller. I stood on my tiptoes next to tall people in pictures and hobbled in high heels for special occasions. I dyed my reddish brown hair a chestnut color like my sister and eventually ended up blonde.
Continuing my beauty quest, I sampled some contact lenses that were sage green and some that were aqua. Not good. Alien-like in color, I looked like a resident from the Village of the Damned.
My skin suffered abuse as well. Like my peers, I slathered baby oil on my fish-belly white skin and endured painful sunburns and blisters. I experimented with self-tanning lotion on my legs, forgetting my arms. During German class, the football captain, who sat in the row next to me, leaned over and tapped my arm. Cruel grin on his face, he pointed at my unevenly streaked legs and asked, "Why don't your arms match your legs?" I pretended not to hear him.
As for the freckles on my face and the unsightly pimples that occasionally accompanied them, I applied liquid makeup, sometimes so thick, I could barely smile without my face cracking.
I’m glad those days are over. Now that I’m in my seventies, I’m too old to even look middle-aged again. Occasionally, I look at pictures of myself when I was young. How did I not see that I was pretty cute, sometimes even beautiful? I was the queen of our high school prom.
These days, for the most part, I accept my short stature although I still stand on my tiptoes when in the midst of giants. I avoid wearing high heels that, for me, should require signing a waiver. I like shoes with ankle support.
I use SPF sunscreen lotion though my past has caught up with me. Skin cancers now emerge and must be removed. I wear a hat and long sleeves while in the sun and compliment my alabaster skin with a selection of colorful clothing.
My hair, thinning and silver now, shines as did my mother’s.
I don’t mind being seen as a ‘little’ old lady. Being underestimated allows me to shock and delight people when I bag my own groceries, dance to rock and roll or make a witty remark.
Don’t get me wrong, I will always be a recovering beauty-holic, yet I know I’m not a moron as Huxley would lead me to believe. I’m brave and kind as any fairy tale heroine and I don’t need a Mouseketeer cap. I have my own beautiful ears.
Recognize your own beauty.
Appreciate your worth.